A Civil Campaign, by Lois McMaster Bujold

My sister-in-law owns every Miles Vorkosigan novel, but up to this point, I’d only read Komarr. While looking over her collection, I was examining how speculative fiction authors use humor and she thrust A Civil Campaign at me, saying, “This one’s so funny that it kept me up at night and I had problems keeping quiet so my husband could sleep.”

Luckily for me, this book is the one that follows Komarr, so I had no problems picking up the story. I didn’t really need to read Komarr because the relevant details are provided by the author, but it was good to know how Miles met and became interested in Ekaterin in the first place. As for the humor, I enjoyed the story, laughed out loud (and luckily for my husband, I was able to do it quietly because I, also, stayed awake late to finish this book). Bujold does the smart thing: she doesn’t try to write funny (as in Terry Pratchett style), but uses her own voice to present humorous situations that get totally out of hand for the characters. Her characters are complex, although some of this complexity is built in previous books. For instance, I knew nothing about Mark (Miles’ clone) and Kareen, so I found that part of the plot less interesting. Regardless, it’s a fun read.

This book has three intertwining plots: Miles courts Ekaterin, Mark (Miles’ clone) courts Kareen, and Ivan (Miles’ handsome womanizing cousin) finds he has no one to court and gets involuntarily embroiled in politics. That’s how the back jacket reads, but each story line is really a smokescreen for a female character rebelling against suppressive Barrayar society and law. Newly widowed, Ekaterin thinks she has finally found peace and independence, but finds herself fighting off manipulative suiters and male relatives that would snatch her son’s guardianship away from her (which they can do, under Barrayar law). Kareen is younger, but she finds her social activities abruptly curtailed by her parents when she returns to Barrayar. She tries for independence, financially, socially, and sexually, by managing and investing in Mark’s new business. Since woman are not allowed to inherit titles or take a seat on the Council of Counts, Ivan finds his previous lover has gone to extreme lengths to do just that — and tumbles Barrayar law on its ear. Plots, politics, and gonad-stealing attempts ensue from these multiple story lines that come together quite nicely in the end, which kept me up until three in the morning.

Note: on Amazon.com, many readers complained that the mass market paperback jacket doesn’t reflect Miles’ physical challenges. Take a look, however, at the cover for the audio version

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